Steven back on the couch. Jenny’s phone is in his hand The phone seems larger than he remembered, he feels like he needs two hands to hold it. The weight is tremendous, What is this thing made of? Steven lays it on the couch next to him out of disgust. He stole her phone; told Jenny blank-faced that he didn't see it He was ‘that’ guy. He lays it on the seat next to him, and puts a cushion on top to hide it. He knows it is there, he can feel it somehow through the fabric like his paranoia, and mistrust was giving off heat.
He stands up abruptly, walks to the bathroom- he wants to get away from his grave deed. He sees all of Jenny’s bathroom stuff around the sink, the cabinet open, and more stuff inside. He looks out the window at the park across the street, kids are already filling the swings, running around in circles like nothing else mattered. He missed being a kid. No worries, your parents pay for everything, your house is magically warm, food (even if you hated it) is always in the fridge. He longed to be 8 years old again, when a good climbing tree could fill a whole day, and when your biggest responsibility was getting up early enough on Saturday to watch cartoons. Now he was a supposed adult, with his own place, and comics bought with his own money, and an unwarranted mistrust of his girlfriend.
He hears the phone vibrate. He runs to the couch, flips the cushion up and sees that the phone is not vibrating at all. He picks it up to make sure, hits the home button to wake the screen. The same, and only message, from this Dr. E person is still in the notifications. Steven slides his finger along the message to open it, the phone reveals the lock screen and awaits for the unknown party to input the passcode. He isn't sure he even knows it. Maybe it is her address where she grew up in West Van? Might be her Mom’s birth year? Maybe his. It is not coming to him. He throws the phone back on the couch in disgust and then as an after thought he pokes it back between the cushions.
He moves to the bedroom and stands at the foot of the bed- he tries to count all the times they made love. He cant remember how many times, even though they made love last night he can barely remember it either. Then he starts to think about the times they just held hands, or when they just sat next to each other and enjoyed the closeness. How many times a week, a month, a day, are you supposed to have sex? Tell someone you love them? Give them space? Fight with them? Give in? Give up? Did any of it matter if you didn't remember? Did it matter more that he felt like it hadn’t happened enough to remember?
He throws on a shirt, and a hoodie- a fresh pair of jeans. Sits down on Jenny’s side of the bed, lays back and rests his head on her pillow. He can smell her shampoo, some flower- a nice flower, a purple one he thinks. He hears her phone vibrate, again.
He tears apart the couch, cushions thrown across the room. The phone amidst crumbs, some pennies- it isn't ringing, or vibrating or anything. It is motionless. Quiet like the room. Schroedinger’s Phone. Did she didn't she?
When Steven was a teenager, and hadn't dated anyone, he believed then that he would be the perfect boyfriend. He was sure if he got his perfect someone that he would be perfect and ipso facto the relationship would be perfect. But what they don't teach you in any of the Hoyle book of relationships is that it’s the tiny things that cause the problems, not the broad things: He and Jenny agreed on the big things; abortion, religion, politics, even music and art; they liked each other’s families, and neither went through any traumatic experience. And yet, here he is staring at her phone, that he stole, so he can read messages that may or may not be incriminating, because he had a dream that she cheated.
The door buzzer scares him, but he still looks at her phone like it was the one ringing. The door buzzes again and Steven realizes what it is and makes to go to the door, comes back to the couch and puts a pillow on the phone and when the door buzzes a third time he answers.
“Hello,” He says into the system.
“Delivery?” says the voice of a woman Steven doesn't recognize.
“Come on up, Five-oh-six.” Steven presses the door button, and rests his forehead against the wall. He takes a breath, takes another. There is a knock at the door, Steven opens it to see a woman with a cardboard fedex envelope in her hand- patch on her chest says Alma, like his Gramma.
Alma says Hello and asks Steven his name, Steven replies in affirmation. The woman pushes the envelope and a pen to Steven. She says, “Bottom there. Thanks.”
Steven steadies the pen on the carbon, gets almost all the way through his signature but is startled by the sound of a phone? Steven looks to the woman, says, “Is that you?”
She says, “What?”
“The phone? Ringing.” He corrects himself, “Vibrating?”
The delivery woman shakes her head, “No? I don't hear anything?”
“Oh. Cool. Yeah, Cool.” Steven says, mostly to himself. He tries to tidy up the last loops of his signature.
“That’s fine, sir.” The delivery woman says, takes the package back and rips off a copy of the bill of lading.
Steven takes the package, looks back at the woman, and says, “Hey, uhm- can I ask you a question?”
She is hesitant, “Sure?”
“So- if, uh, you started to think that your, uhm- boyfriend was cheating on you- but maybe they weren’t but you don't know, yet and you know you should ask them, but you don’t because maybe you are a chicken shit or something- but it does seem like they are cheating- you know, texts and words and things- and so, yeah, is the relationship doomed? You know forget it. Thank you.” Steven starts to close the door, and the woman speaks up.
“Doubt is a hard thing to get through.”
Steven opens the door wider.
“It’s invisible. A tiny invisible Gremlin poking at your relationships from the inside.”
“Don’t expose them to sunlight, right- haha.” says Steven. “It’ll kill ‘em.”
“Sure- but no. That is the opposite of what you should do.
Steven kinda shakes his head like he was slapped, “Oh, sure. yeah.”
Alma goes on, “I once dated a woman, she always seemed to answer the phone when she was wth me- interrupt dates, once she even answered when we were in bed… anyway, but when I called her it always seemed like she would just answer sometimes. After awhile of this picking at me, I started keeping a note in my phone with dates on when she answered and when she didnt. And where I thought she was at that moment.”
“That’s rough,’ says Steven. “I would be petty messed up by that, I think.”
“Yeah, well- you see, one night she finds the note in my phone- I had opened the phone in front of her like normal- whatever, and it was the last thing I had been using. She saw the numbers and dates and asked me what it was. I didn't want to tell her- I was ashamed, things were going real well then, you know- you get good patches and not so good patches, yeah? So at first it was all cutesy, ‘Just tell me, why dontcha tell me?’ some giggling and some fooling around and whatever- then she started to get annoyed and told me I was acting stupid. In retrospect I was, you know.”
“Did you tell her?”
“I did- she got super pissed at me. Said it was the principle of the thing, and all that shit. Sorry.”
“Fuck, all good.”
“Haha, well- I got written up a few times for swearing- you know, it’s like just a word- I don't even notice. Sorry. Anyway, alright- so I tell her not to get mad and I tell her that at the end of the day I was feeling unloved or what-have-you- ignored and such. She gets all quiet. Thanks me for telling her… stays a bit quiet. And then thanks me again- ‘Honey,’ she says, ‘Thank you for telling me what you are feeling. I really appreciate it’ and I think, ‘Oh? Phew, that went well.’ But you see, I don't know how good I got it cuz I start to think about how she never explained why she never answers the phone for me and after week or so, it’s really grinding my gears- I’m at work and I am really seething. ‘blah blah blah, how dare she.”
“Yeah, I get it.” says Steven. “You still have to know.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. So I get home and before the door even fully opens I am ready to lay into her- but I see that the place is super clean- like weirdly super clean, and she has a friend over and I am like, ‘What’s going on? We gotta talk and shit.” Sorry. And she tells her friend- this girl I used to date, but we kinda fell out or whatever, thought we were still friends but… so she picks up some boxes and leaves us alone.”
“She left you.”
“She left me. Said that I shoulda asked. Said I shoulda just talked to her and the whole way she finally found out was weird and it made her feel weird, and she just kinda decided that the damage was done. Oh I tried to tell her things were better, Totally forgetting how much I was going to rip her a new one only hours before. She said, ‘No- this is for the best. And it was, I guess. Still was shitty- I mean, crappy.”
Steven let his hand fall from the door, it swung by his side, then he crossed his arms, uncrossed them. “So, I need to talk to her?”
“That’s your business. But remember, women know. And they’ll pack them bags long before you even know they want to go. So if this thing you are going through is real, or not real, or you think it is real- then you better get out in front of it before she gets wind and you are left with an empty house. And believe me when I tell you- dating is the shits these days.”
“Wow,” he says, swallows, and then adds, “Thanks.” and he begins to close the door.
Alma says, “What? No tip?”
Steven turns around and surveys the room, the pillows everywhere- the mess a kind of metaphor of his life. He knows that the right thing to do is to take the phone to her at work, bring it right to her and hand it to her and then tell her he accidentally saw a message from some Dr. E person- and it made him feel funny. Just let her talk- get it out and done and they could get home in time to watch some Netflix.
He puts the package on the doorway table- he knows it’s a galley for his short story collection. He is supposed to give it a looksee for anything amiss, but it doesn't need to be done until the following week. He tidies the room, makes the bed, cleans up the bathroom sink- everything in its right place for when she gets home. Slips the phone in his pocket and leaves the apartment.
On the street the sun seems to shine harder on him like the whole world knows he is a chicken-shit. He speeds up his walk; he needs to get this done, pull that bandage off, take his licks. Move past it. Up Guildford to Eagle Ridge Hospital. It’s barely 10am and the side walk seems over-full with couples holding hands like nothing could break them apart. Giggles and side-long stolen looks; pecks on cheeks and no secrets.
He feels her phone vibrate and pulls it out. Nothing again- it is mocking him. Phantom rings as a reminder that he made a mistake. If it was buried under floor boards he would hear it in another room, he was certain. Faster he walks, and faster still; he begins to jog. The hill seems steeper than he remembered, but he also realizes that in the last year he hasn't visited Jenny at work; not once.
The first year they were together he met her for lunch three or four times a week, and they would still see each other in the evenings, and weekends. What made him stop visiting her? Life, that’s what. Life is what chips away at a relationship, everytime. When Practicality outweighs abandon. In the beginning he wanted to spend every moment with Jenny- hell, needed, and then something happened- the same something that happens to most relationships, he figures: You won them, so you don’t have to try as hard, he guesses. He knows. He knows that it has been months since he sent her flowers for no reason.
He is in a full run now. Down the pathway to the hospital. In the front door. Down the hallway to where? He hasn't been here in so long he doesn't know what area Jenny still works in. Hallways everywhere, an obstacle course of people, healthy and sick. He wants to ask someone but he is afraid to look stupid that he doesn't even know his own girlfriend. Around another corner, and then he sees her; through the window of a double door. She is talking to a tall man, handsome? Yeah, handsome. A Doctor, yeah a Doctor. And then she gets on her tip-toes and hugs him. The hug lasts forever. Two forevers.
Steven isn't sure what to do now: Storm up to them and cause a scene, or run away and die in the woods. He picks running away. The new Steven and his want to confront problems the moment they arise is still not that ingrained and he resorts to his old ways: push it all down and never bring it up again, until it explodes all over. Perfect. In desperation he pulls out his phone, and before he knows what he is doing he sends Jenny a text- and rushes out of the hospital.
Outside the sun just seems mean now; he’s a dying man in a desert with no water. Down the road and somewhere, the park maybe. Get in the shade, the sun- so hot. So hot. He needs to hide in the dark, away from life, and responsibility- to think.
The cool breeze in the shadow of the pines gives his skin a rest, his head feels like it is burning up. He is having trouble to see, hazy, heat-shimmers- head a bit groggy. He wipes his eyes, not tears, just exhaustion, wind-worn, watery. He finds a bench that looks across the inlet. Maybe he can fix this? Maybe he can bring it tonight, all nonchalant-like. Hey babe- What’s with this Dr. E person? Say it while he is handing her a refill of her wine, or pushing the pepper across the table. Just no big deal- maybe it’s all nothing. Just a Haha, a friend of mine, you met him- he’s Gay or something. Like a best gay friend she’s never once mentioned. And conversation over- they do it and go to bed, and live happily ever after. Easy like Sunday Morning.
He feels another phantom vibrate in his pocket. He takes Jenny’s phone out, it’s the message he sent earlier- it just arrived. It was only 15 minutes and he had already forgotten he had sent it. It reads:
I know what you did :(
Oh that’s going to be hard to explain, he thinks.
...to be continued